Lone Star’s win against Tunisia is commendable

The victorious Liberian national football team

The victorious Liberian national football team

Optimism among some Liberians, mainly the young folks were very low, if not at its lowest in many years. I am sure that low expectation for a victory for the Liberian national football team, the Lone Star, was due largely to the lackluster performance of the team in major competitive games over the past years, Issac C. Yeah writes. 

I didn’t see the game but following the commentary and game analyses from the highly rated UNMIL Radio commentary team, I got a clear view of what was unfolding as my friend Hilary Colnoe, Augustine Hamelberg and Raymond Zarbay provided minute by minute analyses and commentary of the match from the age-old Antoinette Tubman Stadium in central Monrovia.

I was actually listening to the commentary with a few colleagues from Mozambigue, a Ghanaian and a Brazilian. These fellows had interest in the result, but not the commentary and or the analyses,  they couldn’t grasp the intermittent Liberian parlance and comments that were being spoken, so they would rather ask me for the result later. But I tuned in to the radio to the finish line and sure Grandpa Forkay Doe was the emerging savior.

The Fear Factor 

On the average, I too won’t blame anyone for fearing the ”Carthage Eagles”. The Tunisians have never been an underdog or a brushover in Africa football. Their record stands up tall and their performance has been great over the past years or maybe decades. Adding more flames to the fear factor was also Tunisia’s topnotch Coach  Henry Kasperczak. This man is one coach who understands African football like his ABC having coached Morocco, Mali, Senegal and the Ivory Coast and, before that, his native Poland.

So just the mentioning of his name is sufficient to instill some fear in any football follower, pundit or analyst. I am told that the sports betting agencies in Liberia made a lot of money on Saturday because even those who wore the red, white and blue cheering Lone Star at the stadium bet against the team at the Premier, Doxx and other betting stations. Hahahahahahah how funny that is. My late father use to say, FEAR HAS NO MEDICINE, I accept that but fear is different from nationalism and optimism. You may have fear but be a nationalist and remain optimistic.

The lack of nationalistic spirit and optimism for victory 

Any football analyst or sports commentator would have rated the Tunisians far higher than their Liberian counterparts. That was clear because in African and global football, the Tunisians are a better side and have a better record. The Eagles are standing at 33 position in the FIFA World ranking while Liberia sits at 160. So a lot of reasons to favor the Tunisians in these pre match analyses and discourses.

However, while we respect the analysts and commentators, I don’t agree with those who wished a dooms-day demolition, destruction of the Lone Star. That is not analysis, its devilish thinking. To say that Liberians will leave the stadium in tears and that people will walk to the stadium and back home in shame and disappointment do not account for any level of trying to analyze football, its purely lack of nationalism and optimism. I can be concerned but yet hopeful, which is being optimistic. I read a lot of pre-match facebook comments and postings where some notable sports writers and others wished that Liberia didn’t win because they had beef with headcoach James Debbah and his selection of players. Its like setting the house ablaze because your wife cooked a salty food for dinner . Gush, how did that even enter anybody’s mind or thinking.

Coach James Debbah

Coach James Debbah

I had the privilege to travel with the Lone Star before Liberia qualified for the 1996 and 2002 Nations Cup respectively. In most of those games, which Liberia eventually won, the team was never prepared and never had a better coach than their opponents in all respects. It was either Wilfred Kejani Lardner, the ” The Green Banana” Dominic Vava George or Franck Jericho Nagbe as headcoaches and at one time George Weah as technical director. We played and beat some of the greatest teams at the time Nigeria, Congo, Tunisia etc and there were never times that sports journalists or commentators wished the team bad luck or defeat because they had problems with either Willis Knuckles, Edwin Snowe, Izetta Wesley or the technical staff. I personally accompanied the late Francois Massaquoi, then youth and sports minister, to credit money from money exchangers on Broad and Carey Streets for the Lone Star to fund its travels; that happened not once or twice but many times. Willis Knucles was always here and there begging for money from the finance ministry to get the Lone Star on trips to honor international matches. It has never been milk and honey for the Lone Star as far as I was a sports writer and commentator. I too was disappointed as some facebookers were when I read those facebook posts and pre-match analyses that wish Liberians would leave the field ”licking their wounds and weeping” but I remained hopeful and optimistic despite my little fear for the Carthage Eagles. If anybody is looking for a country where people are motivational, highly spirited and are survivals, be my guest, I will take you to Liberia. Oh yes, Liberians know how to survive, they are never bending, they are a strong and proud people with an attitude to fight the odds come what may. James Debbah and his technical crew along with the players did that on Saturday.

Debbah tactics on Saturday worked

Coach Debbah deployed a very smart tactics on Saturday and that paved off well. I was in Liberia in July and had seen the game against Togo in Lome where we were defeated 2-1. That game made me to ask and appeal to Debbah to include three players. Francis Grandpa Doe, Dioh Williams and Patrick ‘Ronaldho’ Wleh. In my opinion, these three highly experienced and talent players would have added more power to the team’s attacking machinery. At that time, I had seen Sekou Jabateh in Monrovia, I am told he was injured, so I didn’t think he would be fit for the match, so I didn’t mentioned his name among the three players I proposed. Coach Debbah said he was building a team and he was adding on players gradually as he moves ahead. True to his word, he added Grandpa Doe, Sekou Jabateh and Omega Roberts. Omega didn’t showed up for Saturday’s match, I am told he wrote a letter to coach Debbah explaining the reasons why he couldn’t make the team this time around. Omega is a great lad with a promising future who needs to be given a chance. On Saturday, Debbah didn’t field Jabateh and why the game was ongoing some pessimistic Liberians starting posting that Debbah was wrong in keeping the player on the bench and that he brought in a local lad called Oscar Dorley who replaced Zah Krangar. The kid was exceptional and brilliant, he added more firepower to the match and the result was gotten. Debbah worked the miracle.

In the conversation that have started coming, I just read one of my junior colleagues who wrote that if Debbah is building a team, he needs to use only local players. That is pure ignorance of what building a team means. Building a team is a progressive term, that would include, some old players, young players, local players and foreign-based players. That is why the Liberia Football Association (LFA) under President Musa Hassan Bility has made it its duty to making all of the junior teams active, so that players  will graduate from the Under 16, Under 20, Under 21 to the senior team, it is a process, not an event. We need to give them a chance to grow gradually.

My appeal to LFA and MYS

It’s my opinion and appeal to the Liberia Football Association (LFA) and the Ministry of Youth and  Sports (MYS) to work closely with the technical staff of the Lone Star in future games so as to give them financial support to host at least two or three international preparatory matches before the team’s next match against Djibouti next year. The more test matches play, the more the technical squad familiarizes itself with the team and understands the weaknesses and strengths of the players, the better it will be for us in the next few crucial games that are left to be won. We need a win again Djibouti both in home and away, a win against Togo in Monrovia and a draw or a win in Tunis. That should be our target. 

Our investment into football as well as coordination has been very low, we need to look at sponsorship from major concessions and other companies as a way of bringing joy to the Liberian people. Corporate social responsibilities can be extended outside concession areas to the Lone Star as well, as even those in the concession areas celebrate when Lone Star wins a match.

It is also my opinion that both the LFA and the MYS keeps Debbah and his men for at least  least three years to enable them built a quality and winsome squad like the so-called George Weah Eleven. Any attempt to break up this current coaching staff will demolish the team and throw the entire building process into jeopardy. Debbah is now getting comfortable and is settling down gradually, I am sure he can achieve his best if he is allow to function freely with all moral and  financial support at his disposal.

My appeal to Debbah and crew 

Moving forward, Debbah and his technical team needs to understand that the games ahead are more crucial as no team will want to lose a point or a match. So the strategy should be more compact and tactical. Invite only active playes with clubs. The National Team is not a place for any clubless player to seek his contract, it will be a disservice for any persons, LFA or MYS officials to present you a list or names of players to be invited, do your due diligence, if you ever attempt to bring in players without club, you will do your country and people a complete disservice and betrayal. In the past, Lone Star had had coaches who invited players who gave them sneakers, headphone radio, laptops and other stuff. Those Coaches were all unsuccessful, because they were inviting the inappropriate players. I remembered a certain Liberian coach whenever he had the chance to be given a coaching job, his son was number one on the list, but this very son was not even a starting player on his local Liberian club. I am sure we have passed that age and period, lets players be invited based on merits, not favoritism.

I like to thank the LFA for giving Coaches James Debbah and Kelvin Sebwe the opportunity to take a coach course in Germany. I hope the Ministry of Youth and Sports can appeal to other friendly great football nations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs  to assist other national team coaches like Thomas Kojoe, George Gebro, Vamah Kpoto, Jonah Sarweah, Christopher Wreh and others to also get some international training, that will add impetus and experience to their coaching career.

My conclusion

Let me conclude my cautioning both the technical staff and the players, that though we won against the Carthage Eagles of Tunisian, that game only prepared us for the big ones ahead. We have the bigger games yet to come, we shouldn’t be complacent and relax. The race is just beginning its not over yet. The players shouldn’t introduce the ‘white chicken’ scenario, when it get praise, it rubs itself into the mud to chance its colour. We need to keep the flames burning, lets the red, white and blue keep flying high over land, sea and mountains.

 Isaac C. Yeah is a former sports writer and commentator